Sophia Loren, photographed at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Apparently Sophia Loren didn't get the memo that she is a septuagenarian and a grandmother because at 76 she is as stunning as when she first arrived in Hollywood more than 50 years ago.
Sitting on a comfy sofa in the lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Loren remains the epitome of glamour and graciousness. Dressed in a red pantsuit with red boots, Loren is svelte with barely a line on her face. Her voice is as distinctively earthy, her accent as thickly Italian as ever — she even apologizes when she can only think of a certain word in her native tongue.
She's in town from her home in Switzerland for the sold-out "An Academy Tribute to Sophia Loren" on Wednesday evening at the Goldwyn Theater. The tribute to the Oscar-winner took her by surprise.
"I didn't expect it, really," says Loren. "It's wonderful, because I belong to Italian movies and, generally, we Italians, we don't get these wonderful, great, great honors, even though we deserve it sometimes!'"
But then again she's always felt embraced here. "America has always accepted me, even in the beginning when I came here for the first time," she recalls. "I was very young and they gave me a wonderful cocktail party. Louella Parsons and Elsa Maxwell and Jayne Mansfield were there. I will never forget those days. For me, Hollywood was a fairy tale, coming from where I came from, a little town. It was something that I never expected."
Billy Crystal is hosting the evening, which includes such guests as Edoardo Ponti, Loren's youngest son; John Travolta; and Rob Marshall, who directed her in the 2009 movie musical "Nine." Clips will be shown from a career that includes such classics as 1961's "Two Women," for which she won the lead actress Oscar (Loren was the first to win an acting Oscar for a foreign language film); 1964's "Marriage Italian Style," for which she earned a second lead actress nomination; "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," also from 1964, in which she appeared with frequent costar Marcello Mastroianni; as well as several of her English-language roles, including 1961's epic "El Cid," 1960's "It Started in Naples" and 1972's "Man of La Mancha."
"What I really felt was so important is that everyone has a great appreciation for her beauty and how incredibly exotic and fantastic and wonderful she is in a lot of levels, but the most important thing people [need] to understand about her is what a tremendous actress she is," said academy programmer Ellen Harrington. "You see somebody who is able to travel between Italian performances, European films, Hollywood movies, comedies, dramas, tremendously important movies, with such a sense of ease and such a presence."
Accompanying her to this interview is Ponti, who appeared with his famous mother as an actor when he was a little boy and who directed her in a 2002 movie, "Between Strangers."
"What is fascinating about my mother is that she approaches every film as if it was her first with the same amount of enthusiasm, with the same amount of passion and with the same about of nerves, which makes her excel," says Ponti. "After you have been in front of the camera for so many years, there is sometimes the tendency to go on autopilot and you become a parody of yourself. That happens to many stars. She has never become a parody of herself."
Born Sofia Scicolone in a charity ward in a Rome hospital, young Loren grew up dirt-poor with her mother and sister Maria in Pozzuoli, a small town outside Naples. Her parents were never married and her father left Loren's mother, Romida, on her own to raise the children. By 14, Loren had developed into a beauty. She entered a beauty contest, placed second and headed off to Rome.
It was at the Miss Rome Beauty contest that teenage Loren met producer Carlo Ponti, her future husband. He was a judge at the event; Loren caught his eye. Coming in second, she says, "gave me a chance to meet him. He said, 'Why don't you come to my office in two or three days and talk a little bit.' Little by little, [our romance] started. I was so young. I was 16 years old and he was married and had two children."
Loren is still in deep mourning for the loss of Ponti four years ago at age 94. "Unfortunately, he's not with us anymore," she says wistfully, adding that her life is "not the same, absolutely not" since his death.
If Ponti was her soul mate, Italian director Vittorio De Sica was her mentor. He directed her to star-making performance as a sexy woman who loses her husband's ring in 1954's anthology comedy "Gold of Naples."
Loren was an overnight sensation in "Gold of Naples." De Sica then directed her to her powerful Oscar-winning performance as a widow trying to get her daughter to safety during World War II in "Two Women." Originally, Anna Magnani was tapped to play the widow and Loren was set to play the daughter, initially written as an 18-year-old. De Sica, though, wanted her to play the widow.
"He fought for me," says Loren. "I said I will never be able to do it. I am 25 years old and I can't have a daughter 18. He said the daughter is going to be 14. But I said even at 14, I am not a mother. He said just believe me. He sent me a telegram saying, 'I am going to do this film and I wanted to do it with you because I believe in you.' That is the miracle of movies."